Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Coincidence? Lady Audley, Louisa Ruth Herbert, Mr Whicher and the Pre-Raphaelites...

Recently, I have noticed some rather intriguing coincidences happening in my life.  One happened a few weekends ago, when Chris and I were looking at used books in various charity shops.  I bought three books, each from different shops.  One was Lady Audley's Secret (1862) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, which had been on my radar for a while as it is a Victorian murder mystery and I had seen it mentioned on other blogs. One was The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Road Hill House Murder by Kate Summerscale and is an account of a true-life Victorian murder.  I was also aware of this as I had seen the TV adaptation. The final one was Desperate Romantics by Franny Moyle, about the Pre-Raphaelites, which I approached with caution as I didn't like the TV series based on the book.  However, I felt that if I hadn't read the book, I was in no position to be critical of it, or the series.  So, three books, all based in Victorian times.
(You will notice that Lady Audley's Secret is not in the photo above because I have lent it to a friend to read.)
Once I began reading, I noticed that the books were all linked.  In Lady Audley, there is a description of a painting of Lady Audley, by a Pre-Raphaelite artist (unnamed), which becomes important.
 "No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair by hair, those feathery masses of ringlets with every glimmer of gold, and every shadow of pale brown. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid lightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait."

The painting above is of Helen of Troy by Rossetti with Annie Miller as the model, but the description of the colouring of the model in the fictional portrait does make me think of this one. This image can be found here.
There is also the possibility that a facet of the character of Lady Audley was based on one of the family involved with the Road Hill murder case, Constance Kent.  The first actress to play Lady Audley on stage was Louisa Ruth Herbert, who became a muse for Dante Gabriel Rossetti during 1858 -9. Here's what he wrote about her:

"I am in the stunning position this morning of expecting the actual visit at 1/2 past 11 of a model whom I have been longing to paint for years – Miss Herbert of the Olympic Theatre – who has the most varied and highest expression I ever saw in a woman's face, besides abundant beauty, golden hair, etc. Did you ever see her? O my eye! she has sat to me now and will sit to me for Mary Magdalene in the picture I am beginning. Such luck!"
 The author Mary Elizabeth Braddon said Louisa Ruth Herbert gave her favorite performance as Lady Audley.
Here is a carte de visite of Louisa Ruth Herbert in 1865.
Here is a pencil sketch Rossetti did of her in 1859 from wikipedia - there is a hand to the left of the picture with the word 'stunner' beside it - Pre-Raphaelite slang for a beautiful woman.  Of course, she appears in the book Desperate Romantics (which is much better than the awful TV series made from it).
Then on Friday, I was reading blog posts that I follow and on Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, appeared a post all about - yes, you guessed it - Louisa Ruth Herbert!  There was also a link to another blog, The Kissed Mouth, with a post all about her, including some photographs of her, showing that she really did look like Rossetti's drawings.
So what does all this mean? Well, it could just be one of those things - as there is an obvious link through Victorian culture.  However, I like to think I was meant to buy and read the books and remind myself of Louisa Ruth Herbert too.  (She and I have a connection of about thirty years, as I also used the black and white drawing of her as the basis of part of an A level art work, many years ago...spooky!)

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Jewellery and gardening

 My best friend who lives in Canada had a big birthday at the end of July and I knew that I wanted to make her a proper, hand knotted pearl necklace with sterling silver findings.  I gathered everything I needed; pearls, silk thread, sterling silver toggle clasp, sterling silver beads, sterling silver french wire and watched many a video on the internet as well as consulted books on the subject.  I decided to use a pair of jewellery tweezers to help with the knots as I felt this looked the most user friendly way to choose.  I stretched the silk thread the day or so before starting in order to lessen the stretch once the necklace is worn.  It took an afternoon to do the knotting and threading, after a couple of false starts and a few choice words.  I was really pleased with the end result.
 I duly sent the jewellery off, but as sometimes happens, circumstances conspired against me and the parcel's progress went a bit quiet.  I had sent it with tracking and signed for, to try to ensure it arrived safely, but after a good fifteen days, missing my friend's big day (bother), it hadn't arrived and I was more than a little worried.  However, when I checked the tracking progress again, it suddenly reappeared and my friend has now received it.  She left me a lovely phone message and I think she liked it!  
The garden is slowly starting to show its late summer colour - this year, the dominant colours are blue/purple/lilac, thanks to the agapanthus, clematis and hibiscus.
 One of my favourite plants for July/August is Hibiscus Syriacus 'Oiseau Bleu/Bluebird' which has the most exotic looking flowers and which has flowered brilliantly this year.  It is always featured on my blog.
However, to offset all the pastels, I have enjoyed seeing the crocosmia (here, it is 'Columbus') unfurling, with the rich yellows and oranges providing a lovely hit of colour.  Lots to enjoy in the August garden.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Creative endeavours

I have had some time off work and have managed to complete two projects.  I have made another needlefelted sheep, based on a Lincoln Longwool sheep.  I think I have improved on the way the head attached and placed, so it is a matter of more practise.
 Here are two real Lincoln Longwool sheep.
I used Lincoln Longwool fleece to add the curls.
 Here are my first two sheep together. The start of a little flock, I think.
 My other creative endeavour was to upcycle this card index unit.  The unit had been sitting under my table with nothing in it for a long time and I decided it would be perfect storage for Blockwallah stamps.  However, it was covered in a dull, ugly brown textured paper, some of which had come off.  So, out came the emulsion paint (the same shade I used on my paper storage unit.)
I covered one side in this lovely paper (which has glitter in it)...
 and the other in this (being very pleased with the way it complemented the paint).
 The back got a makeover too...
As did the top.
For the drawer fronts, I used the same papers as I had used for the paper storage unit.  I think it is a huge improvement and am really pleased with how it looks.  I have lined the drawers with remnants of oilcloth as the stamps have been oiled and this can mark some surfaces.  My pretty card storage index now has a new lease of life on my shelves.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Please keep checking your bank statements/transactions

(Sad face from: http://www.adventureswithwords.com/2014/11/podcast-sad-face/  Angry face from:  http://agk.wikia.com/wiki/File:Angry_face.png )
Here's how I'm feeling today!
I called in to the bank this morning, as I do pretty much every week, to keep an eye on my spending and on my accounts generally. Today, there were some payments on one account which I did not make.  So, I went to the counter and the account was checked for me.  It seems that someone had got hold of my card details from the internet and had been having a lovely time spending my hard earned money.  (Some of the things they had been spending on were just not very nice.)  My card was blocked immediately and I now need to keep checking the account as the payments were pending and until they appear on the account statement, the bank aren't able to start fraud investigations.  I was assured that my money was safe, despite appearances to the contrary.  So, I'll be back at the bank on Thursday to check again.
Please do keep a close eye on your accounts and make sure you know what you are spending and what payments you have made.  It is a really horrible and shocking experience and is awful to know that someone has your card details and is spending your money on whatever they want. I'll keep you posted with any developments.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

More experiments

I have been busily sewing more stock for the craft fair in November, which is creeping ever closer.  I am going to get some business cards and postcards printed up soon and then I'll need to get on with the packaging.  I'm glad that I still have a few months to prepare.
I enjoy block printing and was wondering whether I could use my Blockwallah wooden blocks on my felt, to give a different look.  So, I tried, using acrylic paint which can be heat set for fabric and fabric paint.  I had to press the blocks firmly, but was encouraged by the results.
 Some of the images worked more effectively than others.  They have all been heat set, so the paint shouldn't come off.    I also wondered whether a bit of embroidering might add a little something extra, or some beads... I will probably make these into little decorations or bag charms.
 I liked the multicoloured images.  I have now bought some screen printing ink for fabric, which I am hoping will work well (more experimenting to come) and I have lots of ideas floating around in my head for felted backgrounds with printing on top.  I do have some time off in August so will enjoy more experimenting then.

Saturday, 15 July 2017


It is hydrangea time in the garden and as, in the past, (whisper) I didn't really like them and so did them a bit of a disservice, I feel it is only right to focus on them now.  I have completely changed my opinion of them now and have several in the garden, mainly in pots.  Above is a lovely pure white one, either 'Coco' or 'Fireworks' - I lost the label.
 This one, 'Diamant Rouge' is one I bought last year and haven't seen the flowers yet, so am eagerly watching them to see what colours I get - judging from the name, I'm expecting red.
This is Merveille Sanguine and I like the way the bracts change colour from cream with a hint of green to bright pink.
 This is 'Dark Angel' which is moody and magnificent with its purple shaded leaves.  Again, it has cream and then pink bracts but it also has blue/purple flowers.
 I hadn't really noticed these before but they are stunning...
 Each flower looks like it has been outlined with white.
Finally for now is my favourite (don't tell the others), the only one planted in the border and always reliable, Arborescens Annabelle.  Beautiful, huge creamy white with a hint of green flowers.  I pruned her back (I have to call her, 'her') quite harshly in late Spring, but she has rewarded me by flowering beautifully.
Just stunning.  I enjoy the way that hydrangea flowers fade during the autumn too, so have no doubt they will appear again then.  I am really pleased that I have embraced hydrangeas - I would have missed so much gorgeousness.

Thursday, 6 July 2017


Not real sheep, I hasten to add.  I am working on items for a big craft fair in November and thought I could make some little sheep to sit on my stall alongside my other items.  "Surely it isn't that difficult to needle felt a sheep", I rather naively thought.   Well, after many hours needle felting, here is the first of what will be a small flock (I hope).
 For only my third ever attempt at needle felting, I am quite pleased with him.  I do need more practise, but that is to be expected.
He does have a character, doesn't he?  I am going to try to make some more with long fleeces and have purchased some Lincolnshire Longwool, which has curls in it.  I followed Jenny Barnett's book, 'Needle Felting Workshops' which gave excellent instructions, but I have a way to go until my sheep look like hers!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

End of June

(collage created using picmonkey)
As we near the end of June (this year is going much too quickly), it is a good time to look at roses. June has been good to them this year, despite the baking heat last week and then the heavy rain over the last few days.  I love roses and here are just a few:
top row, left to right: Chandos Beauty, Ferdinand Pichard, New Dawn
middle row, left to right: For Your Eyes Only, The Pilgrim, Eyes forYou
bottom row, left to right, Gertrude Jekyll, Madame Hardy, Rosa Mundi
I do have some deeper pink/red roses too, but haven't taken any photos of them yet, although I probably will.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

At last - we have a wall again!

Last August, we had a bit of a disaster, when our lovely Victorian brick wall fell down, after having a lot of ivy taken away from it.  I posted about that here.

 After a few false starts, we had a bricklayer recommended to us and he duly came along and had a look at the site.  I was most concerned that my plants would all have to come out, as the long border had the brick wall as its back.  However, I was assured that all would be well.  The foundations were dug out one weekend, and it was very hard work.  Above is the view before the foundations were dug.
 The foundations were laid and the following weekend, work started on the wall. The little indentation in the concrete is where one of the ivy roots was.
 It was really exciting seeing the wall starting to go up again.  We had a choice of one brick as we needed something which was double faced and we found that most bricks aren't.  We were replacing like for like, or as near as we could, so that it didn't look too out of place with the rest of the garden walls.
This photo shows the concrete coping going on (it has all been finished now and looks great).  My plants are enjoying having some support again and I even have a little bit of extra planting area at the back...(but won't be planting ivy!)
The bricklayers and foundation diggers did a marvellous job and we are really pleased to have a wall back again. *edited to add... I totally forgot to say that Chris worked incredibly hard through one of the hottest weekends of the year, backfilling the foundations area on our side of the wall, clearing out bricks and rubble and filling a huge skip.  He was an absolute star and a huge well done to him.
I will post some more photos once I have decided which plants are going in!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

RHS Chatsworth

 I went to RHS Chatsworth last Saturday on a rather drizzly and windy day.  However, the weather didn't dampen our spirits and we enjoyed the day. Once we had arrived (being delayed for a while thanks to a bicycle race through Chesterfield which closed the road), the weather decided to be kind and didn't rain on us until we got back to the car. Earlier in the week, there had been wind and rain which caused press day to be curtailed.  I was pleased I had taken my wellies though, because we decided the word for the day was 'squelch'!
 The show had a beautiful setting and we felt there was plenty to see.  Our suggestions for next year would be more seating, more tea and proper cake stalls, and more gardening related stalls.  There were lots of stalls but many of them were 'lifestyle' or interiors related, rather than gardening.  The photo above focused on the rather lovely planting in the pot - a mix of wild and cultivated flowers that appealed to me.
 There were show gardens, beautifully planted...
 ...using traditional materials.
 I was surprised by how much I liked this alpine stream garden which was also beautifully planted.
 The area in this photo particularly appealed.
 There were stands with stunning sculptures - one day, when I have a bigger garden, I would really like one of these.
 We went into the inflatable 'greenhouse' several times on our way to and from the floral marquees.
 We also went through the bridge above, enjoying the planting.  I loved the dandelion sculptures too.
 The formality of the hard landscaping reminded me of a monastery garden with cloisters.
I also liked the mix of meadow (with cows) and formal planting.
 The movable garden was a great idea, particularly for people renting a home.
I had seen this display featured in the TV coverage of  Chelsea.  I have many happy memories of a helter-skelter like this at Hunstanton.  I managed to buy what I had on my list (astrantias x three, two little agapanthus and I ordered five camassia bulbs which will arrive in September/October.)  All in all, a good start for RHS Chatsworth.  Are we going next year?  Of course we are!